Board game designers have to do it all, don’t they? Games have to be good with many players – is 4 the sweet spot? If you add in that 5 or 6-player variant then does a nice 60-minute game suddenly turn into some nightmarish 3 hour one? Well, 3 being the magic number and all that, I’m not talking 3-hour games, I’m talking 3 players.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. The games night where the 4th doesn’t turn up, or in our case the games nights we love. These include us (me and hubby) and my brother – who just happens to be single. It means we are always on the lookout for great games that work well with 3 people and …dare I say it…sometimes are even better with 3 than more…gasp!
So, not only have we done the playing, we’ve done the discussing too. So I thought I’d sit down to tell you what I really thought was good about the ones we love the most. I’ve got a list of 10, but don’t want to make my fingers bleed with typing, or have you get fed up with reading loads and loads, so let’s start with 5 and I’ll do another blog on the rest soon.
Gotta Love Trains
I am going to start with a game that is actually designed for 3 players – and yes, they do exist. Actually this is designed for 2 or 3, but it’s with 3 people that it really shines. It’s a Ticket to Ride (TTR) variant – Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries. Now I know most of you will be familiar with TTR and we all know how popular it is. The game mechanics are so simple. Collect sets of cards to lay trains over tracks connecting cities together and join connected cities together to make routes that score you points.
It’s easy to learn and small rule changes with different editions are easy to pick up. Nordic Countries has ferries and tunnels that work in a slightly different way; there’s no limit to picking up locos (or wild cards) each time. You can even use a mix of several cards to act like another loco for those ferries or tunnels if you want. Sound like it will be easy huh? Well, not so simple. Lots of the routes intersect and you can easily get blocked if you are not careful. Even though you can use double routes with 3 players, with almost everyone wanting to go to Oslo, it can get really congested.
Trains come in 3 colours – purple (yay!), black and white. The box is designed with an insert that can take those natty tins with special trains, such as those produced by the Little Plastic Train Company. The production is always good – like any Days of Wonder Game and it’s dedicated to 3 people. What more can I say!
If you want a score, I’ll give it a 9/10 for production value (just docked a point because you might say the trains are a bit plastic). Replayability an 8 (there are so many variants that you don’t want to stick to just one). And suitability for 3 people a straight 10/10.
So, moving on, I’m going to add in a couple that are multiplayer games that work great with 3.
Temples, Pyramids And Tombs!
One of the first games we played with 3 that we loved was Imhotep, Builder of Egypt by Kosmos Games. Now the first thing I will say is that we played this at a games day, came home and ordered it from the shop and I don’t think you can get a higher recommendation than that. The premise is simple. Use a limited number of cubes to load up a boat. Then sail the boat to a port and build a pyramid, temple or obelisk to collect points.
The thing is, anyone can add cubes to a boat. And anyone can sail a boat with your cubes on it to any of the sites…assuming there is no boat there already. Yes, one boat per scoring section only. It allows you to inconvenience others. But the decisions of how to optimise your own moves whilst screwing your opponents' moves produces a great game.
The boards are double-sided and the mix of different boat sizes vary from game to game so there is a load of replayability. There’s even an expansion if you want more boards with slightly different options. The 120 cubes are a nice size, the components are great quality and my only complaint is that it really doesn’t need a 12x12” box!
Why does this make my list for 3 players? Well, we’ve played it with 2 (although the 2 player Duel version is better). We’ve played it with 4, where the frustration value of getting your cubes randomly sailed to places is too much. 3 is just the sweet spot with this game, so I give it a huge thumbs up.
Everyone Loves Indiana Jones
Moving on to number 3, I’m going to cheat a bit, but Karuba makes this list. Karuba was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2016 and deservedly so. Great to play with families and non-gamers, it also works well with 3 players. It is a tile-laying race game with players starting with boards that are identical. The race is on to get explorers to temples first and earn points.
Now, I will say that we’ve played this with 8 and it’s just as good, you just need more than one set to get enough player boards together. One person acts like a bingo caller drawing tiles. It’s a reasonably quick game where someone always walls themselves off early in the game, much to the amusement of everyone else.
We’ve played it a lot, but bear in mind it's quite lightweight, and one game always seems to lead to another as it feels the game isn't long enough. Is 3 the sweet spot? Who can tell? It’s just a great game, however many players (or sets you use). The components are great. Little plastic crystals and gold nuggets add to the feel of it and the artwork really adds to the theme. All you need is a whip to crack and the right hat and you can feel like Indie!
Meanwhile, In The Deep Blue Sea…
The next one I’m including is Reef. Now again, this isn’t really a hefty game at all as it is a 30-45 minute game, but it’s really nice to play and has a good flow with 3 (and there’s no pun there on the water theme!).
On each turn, players can choose to pick up a new card or play a card they already have. Each card gives you 2 pieces of reef to place immediately and you can score for placement, height, what colour is on the top for example but only if it matches the pattern on the card you play. With 3 you get enough time to plan as the cards on the table don’t disappear to other players before your turn in quite the same way as when playing with 4, but is less predictable than with 2. Definitely a great one for 3 players.
Reef is an abstract strategy game with absolutely lush components. The pieces of reef are in a hard plastic that is incredibly tactile (think lego plastic). They are a really nice size and the rules are simple to learn. There’s a bit to ponder, but we haven’t yet encountered analysis paralysis with this one. I give it a solid 9 out of 10 (hey, it did make my top 5 after all). The theme is really strong and the pieces lovely (I bet I said that already!). If you haven’t tried it, I’d make space on the shelf. It’s a fantastic shortish game.
Seize The Day…In Grey!
Finally in my top 5 is Carpe Diem by Alea Games. Designed by Stephan Feld and produced by Ravensburger, this non-descript grey box contains a real gem. It says it is a 2-4 player, but in my opinion a 4th player only adds downtime – 3 players is where it is perfect. In each turn you get a tile to place on your board and get a bonus if you complete a structure. You need to satisfy objectives every round but the challenge is that in each round you only pick 7 tiles, so you always have to be very focused on which objectives you want and keep an eye on what other people want too.
The replayability is quite good, with many different objectives and ways of scoring and it's not too deep, but it allows nice strategies. It's also quite fast. I’d say it is an elegant game with interesting decisions at every turn. To make it better still, the random display of scoring cards makes every game a unique puzzle. At the end of each of 4 rounds, you need to meet the requirements of the cards and this adds a tense strategic element to what might otherwise seem a very tactical game.
The rule book is written well, but printed on the ghastly grey that the box comes in and I have to say that the artwork isn’t wonderful. I love the gameplay, we all agree that the game is great for 3, but I think it just doesn’t appeal to some people because of the ‘greyness’ of it all. I give it a 8.5 for playing but only a 5 for components…
Anyway, play it. It’s the playing that counts huh? You can make up your own mind then!
So…that’s my top 5 for 3 people. I’ve got more and I’ll share them with you in time, but in the meantime, have fun inviting your single mate out with you. Never again need you wonder if that 4 player game will work with less!